We were in an alpine valley 7000 feet high in the mountains near Keremeos, B.C. “Something moved out there,” Jean said. Her eyes were so good she could spot a ripe blackberry at 50 paces.
“Where?” I asked.
“Down the valley. Maybe 200 yards. Looks like a sheep,” Jean said.
I got out the binoculars. Something was out there, alright, but we couldn’t see it clearly because of the rocks.
Grey fur on the front part of it, and brown fur on the back.
“Maybe it’s a grey bear,” I said.
Just then a whistler, or hoary marmot, popped out of a burrow close by. Hoary marmots are rodents, and they are the largest members of the squirrel family. They weigh from 10 to 20 pounds, the females are generally larger than the males, and they warn of danger with a piercing whistle. That’s why they’re called whistlers, and Whistler Mountain is named after them.
The shape and colour of the whistler, and the shape and colour of the creature we could partially see down the valley, were the same. “It’s not possible,” Jean said. “If that creature is a whistler, it must weigh close to 50 pounds.”
“Let’s check it out,” I said. “Wolverines are about that size.”
“Wolverines have darker coloured fur,” Jean said.
Slowly and quietly we walked down the grassy alpine valley which was free of trees, but strewn with boulders. Then we saw the creature nibbling grass with its prominent rodent teeth. It was a hoary marmot for sure – a 50 pound marmot!
It didn’t whistle when we approached within 30 feet of it. It didn’t run for the nearest burrow, but what kind of underground lodge would hold a marmot as big as a sheep? “The mother of all marmots,” Jean said with awe.
I moved a step closer, and the animal, still munching grass, looked at me out of the corner of its eye. Then it ambled off, and disappeared in the trees at the edge of the meadow.
We told a forest ranger about this experience. “We know about her,” he said. “She has no enemies in that valley, and she must be very old. Some hikers swear they’ve seen a bear or a wolverine.”
“Tell us about it,” we said.
~ Sandy Cameron